Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel...for IT is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth [IT].
What is the gospel and from what does it save us? We must begin in the Garden. Persuaded by Satan that God had lied to her, and seduced by the appealing promise of godhood, Eve rebelled against her Creator. Not wanting to be separated from his wife, whom he loved more than God, Adam, who was not deceived (1 Tim:2:14), deliberately joined in her disobedience. Thus "by one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men [and women], for that all have sinned" (Rom:5:12). Death not only ends this short earthly life, but it separates the sinner from God forever.
In His infinite foreknowledge, wisdom and love, God had already planned what He would do to reunite mankind with Himself. Without ceasing to be God (an impossibility), He would become a man through a virgin birth. Only God could be the Savior (Isa:43:11; 45:21, etc.), thus the Messiah had to be God (Isa:9:6; Isa:45:15; Ti 1:3-4, etc.). He would die for our sins to pay the penalty demanded by His justice: " 'Tis mystery all, the immortal dies!" (Charles Wesley). Then He would rise from the dead to live in those who would believe in and receive Him as their Lord and Savior, giving them forgiveness of sins and eternal life as a free gift of His grace.
Centuries before His incarnation, God inspired the Old Testament prophets to declare His eternal and unchangeable plan of salvation. Definitive criteria were provided by which the coming Savior would be identified. Jesus and His apostles did not invent a "new religion." Christianity fulfills scores of specific prophecies and is thus provable from Scripture! (See How Close Are We?)
So it was not a new gospel which Paul preached, but "the gospel of God, (which He had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,) Concerning his Son Jesus Christ..." (Rom:1:1-3). Thus the Bereans could check Paul's message against the Old Testament (Acts:17:11); and he could use the Hebrew prophets, which were read in the synagogue each sabbath, to show that Jesus was the promised Messiah (vv 2-3). Not Buddha, not Muhammad, not anyone else—only Christ has the required credentials! The fulfillment of scores of specific prophecies in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is absolute proof that He is the true and only Savior.
In Hebrews:2:3 the vital question is asked, "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" There is no escape. The Bible makes that solemn fact abundantly clear. To reject or add to or take from or otherwise pervert or embrace a substitute for "the gospel of God" is to perpetuate the rebellion begun by Adam and Eve and to leave one eternally separated from God and under His wrath. No wonder Paul wrote, "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men..."(2 Cor:5:11). So must we persuade through the gospel!
The "gospel of your salvation" (Eph:1:13) "wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved" (1 Cor:15:1-2) is simple and precise, leaving no room for misunderstanding or negotiation: "that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day..." (vv 3-4). This "everlasting gospel" (Rev:14:6) was promised "before the world began" (2 Tim:1:9; Ti 1:2) and cannot change with time or culture. There is no other hope for mankind, no other way to be forgiven and brought back to God except through this "strait gate and narrow way" (Mat:7:13). Any broader road leads to destruction (v 13).
The one true "gospel of God's grace," which God offers as our only salvation has three basic elements: 1) who Christ is—fully God and perfect, sinless man in one person (were He less, He could not be our Savior); 2) who we are—hopeless sinners already condemned to eternal death (or we wouldn't need to be saved); and 3) what Christ's death accomplished—the payment of the full penalty for our sins (any attempt by us to pay in any way rejects the Cross).
Christ has commanded us to "preach the gospel [good news!] to every creature [person] (Mk 16:15). What response is required? Both the desperate question and uncomplicated answer are given to us: "What must I do to be saved? Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved"(Acts:16:30-31). Neither religion, ritual, nor good works will avail—simply believe. "For by grace are ye saved through faith"(Eph:2:8)—whosoever believes in him will not perish, but has eternal life (Jn:3:16).
It is the gospel alone that saves those who believe it. Nothing else will save. Therefore we must preach the gospel. Paul said, "Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel" (1 Cor:9:16). Yet how often sentimental appeals are made to "come to Jesus" or "make a decision for Christ" without clearly explaining the gospel! Many are attracted to Christ because of His admirable character, "noble martyrdom," or because "He changes lives." Such "converts" have not believed the gospel and thus are not saved but remain under God's wrath (Jn:3:36). This is the solemn teaching of Scripture.
There are peripheral issues on which Christians may differ, such as diet, dress, mode of baptism, honoring certain days, how and how often to keep the Lord's supper, etc. Salvation, however, is the central issue on which all must agree. Paul cursed those who taught that one must believe the gospel and keep the law in order to be saved (Gal:1:6-12). Such a slight addition destroyed the gospel. No one believing that message could be saved! Nor is anyone a Christian who believes one of today's popular diluted gospels.
Oswald Chambers warned lest, in our zeal to get people to accept the gospel, we manufacture a gospel acceptable to people and produce "converts" who are not saved. Today's most popular perversion is the "positive" gospel which is designed to offend no one with truth. Robert Schuller, for example, has said that it is demeaning to call anyone a sinner and that Christ died to restore human dignity and self-esteem. He "wins many to Christ" with that seductive message—but such a gospel does not save sinners.
Evangelistic appeals are often made to "come to Christ" for the wrong reasons: in order to be healthy, happy, successful, to restore a marriage, or to handle stress. Some of today's most popular televangelists are so intent upon "slaying in the Spirit" and physical healing that they fail to deliver from sin. Their gospel is often so diluted or perverted that it deceives many into thinking they are saved when they are not. No fraud could be worse, for the consequences are eternal!
Religion, not atheism, is Satan's main weapon. "The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ...should shine unto them" (2 Cor:4:4). To combat "the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts:20:24), the great deceiver has many false gospels, but they all have two subtle rejections of grace in common: ritual and/or self-effort.
Ritual makes redemption an ongoing process performed by a special priesthood; and self-effort gives man a part to play in earning his salvation. The one denies the finality of the Cross. The other denies its sufficiency. Consider, for example, the rituals and self-effort in all non-Christian religions. Their denial of the cross of Christ and opposition to the gospel are blatant. Yet pagan/New Age beliefs are proliferating in the church in the name of ecumenism and broad-mindedness.
Pagan worship (Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, witchcraft, etc.) is common at New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine, America's largest Episcopal cathedral, which has even featured a female "Christa" on a crucifix. Evangelical leaders firmly denounce such blasphemy among Protestants, but many remain strangely silent when it involves the Roman Catholic Church. Evangelical leaders even laud Pope John Paul II as he travels the world to honor and to express respect and sympathy for the enemies of the gospel.
At Assisi the pope encouraged the Dalai Lama and his monks to worship at the Church of St. Peter altar, on which they placed a statue of Buddha for their anti-Christian ceremony. Around the world the pope has held masses in which various pagan rituals (in which he participated) were incorporated. The "Vicar of Christ" has prayed with animists and even entered their sanctuary, consecrated to demons, to participate in pagan rituals which began with a sorcerer invoking ancestral spirits. Imagine the Apostle Paul worshiping at the Temple of Diana in Ephesus!
In opposition to the errors of Mormonism, Christian Science, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc., evangelicals are united. Not so when it comes to errors just as great in Roman Catholicism. Even anticult ministries such as Christian Research Institute espouse Catholic-evangelical ecumenism. CRI refers to Roman Catholics as "born-again," "evangelical" and "Bible-believing"—terms which repudiate the Reformation. Remember, the issue then and now is God's nonnegotiable gospel, which Rome literally curses. (See below.)
When he began his ministry, Billy Graham, like the Reformers, called Catholicism the greatest enemy of the gospel. Today he says his beliefs "are essentially the same as those of Orthodox Roman Catholics...." A similar astonishing about-face has occurred in the last few years among other evangelical leaders due to the widely held belief that Vatican II (1962-65) transformed Catholicism. In fact, apart from a few cosmetic changes (Mass no longer only in Latin, etc.), Rome's gospel remains the same as in Luther's day.
Consider the facts. To oppose the Reformation, Rome's leading theologians met in the Council of Trent (1545-63). Its Canons and Decrees, which define official Roman Catholic dogma, contain more than 100 anathemas denouncing the gospel of grace affirmed by the Reformers. Every evangelical doctrine is cursed! And Vatican II? It declares: "This sacred council...proposes again the decrees...of the Council of Trent [including its 100-plus anathemas!]." As The Catholic Answer (March/April 1993) states, "Whatever was 'officially' taught by the Church in one age is 'officially' taught by the Church in every age....Council of Trent [doctrines] are completely consonant with the eucharistic faith of the Church today."
Evangelical leaders who accept Catholics as Christians and join with Rome in "evangelism" are greatly deceived and deceiving others. Chuck Colson is, sadly, one of them. In his latest book, The Body, which in many ways is commendable (see also "Q&A" in this issue), he appeals strongly for unity with Rome, but upon the basis of gross misinformation provided to his readers. For example, after explaining that a major catalyst for the Reformation was Luther's revulsion for the practice of selling indulgences, Colson writes,
The Reformers, for example, assailed the corrupt practice of indulgences; today they are gone....(p 271)
Indulgences "are gone"? Absolutely not! Vatican II's Indulgentiarum Doctrina by Pope Paul VI devotes 17 pages to indulgences. While admitting some "improper uses" in the past, this document declares that the Roman Catholic Church "commands that the usage of indulgences... be kept in the Church; and it condemns with anathema those who say that indulgences are useless...." Vatican II explains that the "merits" of the death of Christ, together with Mary's "good works" and the surplus "good works of all the saints" beyond what they needed in order to "attain their own salvation," have been deposited in a "treasury."
Out of this "treasury" the Church dispenses indulgences in order to reduce suffering in purgatory, "distributing it [the treasury] to the faithful for their salvation-....This holy Council...teaches that the Church...is necessary for salvation.... [T]he Gospel...[enables] all men [to] attain to salvation through faith, baptism and the observance of the commandments.... [Through] prayers and good works...[the saints] attained their own salvation and...cooperated in saving their brothers.... From the most ancient times...good works were also offered to God for the salvation of sinners." (Emphasis added) Roman Catholicism proclaims a false gospel of ritual and works!
In Catholicism, Christ's death for sins does not save those who believe, but makes it possible for them to merit their salvation through an elaborate religion of ritual and self-effort. Vatican II explains: "The Church...formulated and devised various ways [the seven sacraments] of applying [in installments] the fruits of Christ's redemption to the individual faithful.... For it is the liturgy through which, especially in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, 'the work of our redemption is accomplished....'" Yet Hebrews:9:12 says that Christ has already accomplished "eternal redemption for us"! Such is the promise of the true gospel to those who believe.
In Roman Catholicism the "graces won by Christ and the saints" are "applied to the faithful" in installments so that they must come back again and again to receive more "graces and merits" to help them on their way to heaven. There is no assurance that this goal will ever be attained, nor is there any indication of the number of Masses, rosaries, indulgences, etc. it will take to reach heaven. The Catholic's only hope of salvation is in the ongoing ritual of the Church. Yet the Bible offers forgiveness of sins and eternal life as the free gift of God's grace to all who believe the gospel. What a contrast!
The Mass denies that Christ paid fully for our sins at Calvary. It is itself a sacrifice that saves. As the Pocket Catholic Dictionary declares (pp 248-49), "The Mass is a truly propitiatory sacrifice...by [which] 'the Lord is appeased, He grants grace and...pardons wrongdoings and sins'.... [T]he Mass is the divinely ordained means of applying the merits of Calvary... gradually and continually....The priest is indispensable, since he alone by his powers can change the elements of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ." Rather than confess this false gospel, hundreds of thousands suffered martyrdom at the stake!
Biblically and logically, one cannot believe both the true gospel of God's grace and Rome's false gospel of ritual and works. Of the thousands of former Roman Catholics with whom I've had contact, not one ever heard the true gospel from the Roman Catholic Church. All had to turn from Roman Catholicism to receive assurance of salvation through simple faith in the finished work of Christ. The issue is God's nonnegotiable gospel and the eternal destiny of souls! I beg of you, contend for the true gospel, proclaim it in the power of the Holy Spirit, and pray earnestly (and do whatever else the Lord directs) that evangelical leaders will vigorously oppose every false gospel, including Rome's. TBC